Five apps and services for the iPad that can help publishers work smarter and (hopefully) sell more books.
I bought an iPad. Anybody who has worked with me will not be surprised to hear this. Clinically speaking, I could probably be diagnosed with a near-fatal Stage III case of Apple Fanboy Syndrome. But this time, I didn't just whip out the personal credit card and order blindly. I needed to think about this carefully.
My decision couldn't just be based on surface factors like the unibody construction and giant shiny multitouch screen. It's not about the 10 hour battery life. It's not about watching movies or tv shows on airplanes. It's not even about the ease of email-checking from a recumbent position on the sofa. As so many reviewers and analysts have made clear, it's all about the apps.
From the moment Steve Jobs announced the iPad in January, I was thinking about how to add it to my book rep workflow. How to use it in my appointments with my bookstore buyers. And how to use it when I'm not actively selling – when I'm working from home, preparing for the next season.
I've got some answers now. I found some apps, and when the iPad arrived on Saturday, April 3, I started putting them into place. It's been funny to me that I've spent the last few weeks talking to my colleagues about how we can do our jobs just as well with less paper in our lives in order to help our publishers get more printed books out in the world.
It's no big secret to anyone who works in publishing and bookselling that there's a lot of paper involved in the creation and selling of books. There're manuscripts to be read. Tip sheets. Sell sheets. Sample chapters. Sample page spreads. The mysterious-to-outsiders blads and F&Gs. Cover art revisions. And endless, endless spreadsheets. All this is before the big rolls of paper hit the printing press and get turned into books. (Or the bits get turned into ebooks.)
Obviously, the first way that the iPad can move smoothly into a publishing pro's life is as a flexible reader for manuscripts and sample chapters. The not quite built-in iBooks app from Apple does a terrific job of reading .epub formatted files. But getting them on the iPad can be something of a chore. You need to save them to the computer that syncs with the iPad and then manually install them through iTunes during the syncing process. A bit of a pain.
There are other ebook readers that function perfectly well on the iPhone and iPod Touch - Stanza has been the best, but it hasn't been updated to take advantage of the massive screen yet. And there's no official word yet from Stanza's parent company, Lexcycle (and its parent company, Amazon.com), about whether there will ever be an update for iPad. The ebooks you read on the screen-doubled Stanza app on the iPad are just too fuzzy. So for the time being, Stanza is out of the running.
Consider a relative newcomer, readMe. It offers a clean, simple interface, with a slightly more complicated process for getting ebooks on board than Stanza. You can click on .epub links online in readMe's built-in browser and they download directly. And it has a terrific interface on the iPad, using the full screen. But it doesn't cover the full array of file formats that Stanza can handle. It's a solid at-bat, but no homerun.
For the moment, my recommendation on pre-publication ebook reading is to install both iBooks and readMe and give them a try. They're both great for actually reading the documents. And keeping hoping that Stanza will come out with a native iPad version.
When I am working with a bookstore buyer in a sales call, I usually spend the first part of my time at any store carrying in tote bags of sales materials to share with my buyers. For a publisher of children's books, this can mean multiple totes of F&Gs. (For the uninitiated, F&Gs stands for "folded & gathered" unbound pages of picture books.) For a publisher of books that involve design or photography or art, we usually receive color copies of sample page spreads or fancy printed "blads". (Again, for the uninitiated, a blad is just a small booklet of sample pages, usually in the exact trim size of the finished book.)
I don't want to sound like I'm complaining about having lots of sales materials to share with my buyers – I'm not, because I know that showing off the incredible sample pages of a book will often make the sale where my sales pitch alongside the catalog page might fall short.
But after the iPad announcement I got to thinking, what if I had an iPad filled with an entire season's worth of blads and F&Gs and sample page spreads? What if I had PDF versions of all those sales materials instead of all the tote bags?
This was where I spent a lot of time, trying to find an app that would help me handle all those PDFs during a sales call, with a simple interface that any buyer could easily grasp. My plan was to bring the iPad in to sales calls and turn it over to my buyers while I continued to use the laptop to present my sales pitch and take down the orders. For a scary couple of days, I thought I might have to learn how to build my own app.
It might seem obvious now to anyone who has looked at the App Store's best-seller list since the iPad went on sale, but when I first started looking around, GoodReader was a dark horse app, not one of the top-selling paid apps. Right away, I knew that this app was going to be a mainstay on my iPad. And their almost instantaneous release of the iPad-optimized version (with fast updates since the launch) shows they are paying attention to their users' needs.
Unlike the ebook-reading side of my workflow, this part works very smoothly, thanks to GoodReader's beneath-the-scenes programming. It is one of the first apps designed to take advantage of inter-app data sharing on the iPad. This means that once you've installed GoodReader, the operating system knows that app can handle any PDFs that might come along – whether you've received it in an email or come across it on the web. You just tap on the file and a pop-up option allows you to open it in GoodReader. And you're done. That PDF is copied to GoodReader.
They've also built in capabilities to log on to popular cloud-based file storage services like Dropbox. The Dropbox service installs a file on your desktop and securely syncs any files you might put inside that folder up to your account in the cloud. From inside the GoodReader app, you can easily access your Dropbox account and navigate to exactly the right files you want copied to your iPad. I've already used the combination of Dropbox and GoodReader to move mountains of files to my iPad for next season. (There is a Dropbox app for iPhone, but they haven't updated it yet for iPad, so it doesn't seem to work as smoothly as GoodReader does.)
So how does it all work? Even better than I'd dare to hope back in January. The screen images are gorgeous, and the processor in the iPad is even more powerful than the iPhone currently has. PDFs fly open, scroll quickly, and zoom in and out without delay. So many people have iPhones or similar touchscreen-based smartphones already that I don't expect much trouble in working with my buyers during our appointments. The interface is quite intuitive.
I haven't started selling the fall season to bookstores yet, but I'm looking forward to having so many samples right at my fingertips to show my buyers.
I've been asking our publishers to send me their sales materials in PDF form for this season and many have been very supportive. I'm looking forward to our upcoming round of sales conference meetings to show them how great their materials look on the iPad.
I encourage my fellow book sales reps to take a look at these new tools and spend some time thinking about how they might improve their workflow and their time spent with bookstore customers.
For any publisher who wants to find a smart way to cut back on costly printing, cross-country mailings, and antiquated systems for distributing sales materials to your sales and marketing people, step forward and give this method a try. I'm happy to have a conversation with any publisher about how to put these tools in place.
For an industry that's struggling to define the future of books and ebooks for the general public and worrying about competing file formats, price wars, DRM, and myriad other fears, this kind of clean, internal change should be a no-brainer. It's not revolutionary, it's simply evolution. We find ways to do our jobs better and we move forward.
Cross-posted at the Huffington Post.